- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2005

JAMESTOWN, Va. — American Indian leaders in Virginia are threatening to turn their participation in Jamestown’s 400th anniversary celebration into a protest if they don’t gain federal recognition by 2007.

The main sticking point is casino gambling — something the tribes insist they don’t even want.

“We’re not asking for something that is not ours,” says Stephen Adkins, chief of the Chickahominy tribe. “We’re trying to reclaim that sovereignty that we believe God gave us. And why should man be allowed to take that away from us?”

The latest push for recognition coincides with the Christmas release of the movie “The New World,” a retelling of the story of Jamestown leader Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas, daughter of the great chief Powhatan.

Between 3,000 and 5,000 people belong to the eight state-recognized tribes that have applied for federal recognition through the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

That tortuous 20-plus-year process requires tribes to submit voluminous historical and genealogical evidence to back claims of legitimacy.

Arguing that those records have been obscured by systematic discrimination in Virginia, the Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Eastern Chickahominy, Monacan, Nansemond and Rappahannock are seeking an expedited route to recognition via an act of Congress.

The Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes, the only Virginia Indians with their own reservations, are not part of the congressional efforts.

Virginia’s two U.S. senators have pushed recognition bills since 2000.

The state’s General Assembly has recognized the tribes on the state level since the 1980s and overwhelmingly passed a resolution backing federal recognition.

The federal effort has stalled, largely because of the efforts of U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, a Republican whose district includes Frederick and Loudoun counties and part of Fairfax County and a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Wolf argues that the tribes could have achieved recognition three years ago had they been willing to agree to local boards of supervisors going to jail.

The tribes blame their lack of recognition on Virginia’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act, which made it illegal for whites and nonwhites to marry.

After pushing for passage of that act, Walter Plecker, registrar of the state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, campaigned to prevent the “mongrelization” of the white “master race” by what he called “pseudo-Indians.”

Plecker ordered that the Indians be classified as “colored” on birth and marriage certificates and threatened doctors and midwives with jail for noncompliance.

The result, say the tribes, was a “paper genocide.”

Kenneth Branham, 52, chief of the Monacan tribe of the western Virginia mountains, said his parents were wed in Maryland because they couldn’t be married as Indians at home.

He was one of the first Monacan to graduate from public schools in rural Amherst County because Indians weren’t allowed to attend schools with whites until 1963.

A few miles outside Richmond, Kenneth Adams, 58, sits in the two-room, red-brick Indian school he attended until his senior year of high school.

The chief of the Upper Mattaponi tribe has said that federal recognition means much more to him than slot machines, roulette wheels or blackjack tables.

Mr. Adams said he seeks the same benefits enjoyed by the 562 tribes acknowledged by the Department of the Interior.

They include college scholarship money for the tribe’s young students, housing assistance for its elderly and the right to possess and use eagle feathers in the tribe’s sacred ceremonies.

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